In the Suburbs / Special army of guests visits Carolton residents monthly
Once a month, a small army of excited guests arrives at the The Carolton Chronic Convalescent Hospital and Rehabilitation Center in Fairfield for its regular short visit with residents. “Oohs” and “ahhs” abound as this dedicated group walks around, greeting patients and staff, offering kisses to some and hearty handshakes to others.
I have first-hand experience at being part of this small army, which is led by four-legged soldiers, like our guy, Truffie, and accompanied by their owners. I can assure you that the residents live for these visits and so do we.
I inherited this special assignment nearly four years ago when Truffie became part of our lives. I had walked Truffie for his owner Hazel and she asked if we would take him when she was dying of cancer. Of course, we didn’t hesitate, but had no idea about the therapy visits to the Carolton. We found out several weeks later when Hazel’s god daughter, who had taken Truffie’s sister Flicka, called and asked if we would be coming the following Saturday to visit residents.
Naturally, I said yes and so began this wonderful experience. We had never owned a therapy dog before Truffie. Our brood was friendly and exuberant, but hardly patient or predictable enough to be with other dogs, let alone seniors, who might be frail.
But Truffie was a natural. A chocolate-colored Boykin Spaniel with big, floppy ears and paws, he guided me through my first experience and helped me get to know the residents. With Hazel being ill, she and Truffie hadn’t been coming regularly, so when we arrived that first Saturday, it was like a canine reunion for dogs, owners and residents. Everyone was so appreciative that we had come and would continue to be part of this army of compassionate canines.
One of the residents, who was the happiest to see Truffie, was his buddy Fabian, who couldn’t get enough cold-nose nuzzling and doggie kisses. Fabian just lights up every time Truffie arrives.
Some other residents wanted to have Truffie on their laps, but he’s an active little guy and didn’t always sit still. What’s amazing is that he really works the room, along with the other dogs. After several greetings and pettings, Truff gets pretty tuckered out, so he usually flops down in front of Fabian’s wheelchair for a rest or wanders over to drink some of Nora’s water. Of course, he never misses an opportunity for a biscuit handout from one of the other owners. I have to remind myself the next time to bring biscuits for our hardworking team.
Sue is the coordinator of our group and generally e-mails owners within three weeks of the next visit, after she has worked out a date with Carolton. When Truffie and I first started coming, Sue was bringing Nora, a beautiful white Lab, and Falco, who was also large and white. Sadly, Sue lost Falco last year and that left a real void in our little army.
Hazel’s god daughter has brought Flicka several times, but her schedule is busy and she can’t always make it. Nevertheless, Truffie gets so excited when Flicka comes and he probably believes it’s like old times at Hazel’s.
Skyler and Sydney have become regulars and they are large, friendly dogs, but I’m not sure of the breeds. And a couple of newer additions, Bear, a labradoodle, and Ollie, who looks like a black labradoodle, have joined the group as well.
Unfortunately, my tutoring schedule this past spring took me away from Saturday visits, but now I’m back again and Truffie and I were so glad to see our buddy Fabian and other familiar residents this past weekend. I promised Fabian I would try to get over again with Truffie sometime this month.
Last Saturday was a belated birthday celebration for Nora, who wore a special hat and pranced around and begging for biscuits. At 12, Nora is still pretty spry, but her arthritis bothers her every now and then and she was limping a bit on Saturday.
Several friends have asked me what credentials or certifications are needed for a dog to become a therapy dog and I have to be honest - I don’t know. I will have to ask Sue the next time we have our session, but I would imagine that some organization has to evaluate the dogs and approve them.
What I do know is that there is no greater gift for these residents than to receive a visit from our special canine compassion patrol. And I am happy to be part of this noble cause.
Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his “In the Suburbs” appears each Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.